A Contemporary Approach
Chairman of Islamic Information
is mistakenly labeled intolerant by the West on the basis of the old
ruling of the Muslims jurists that if a Muslim leaves Islam or
converted to some other religion such person is beheaded for being
murtad (leaving Islam). But eminent contemporary Islamic scholars
hold different view on the basis of a renewed ijtihad, research and
investigation. The West however continues to beat drum and propagate
that Islam is against the freedom of conscience and Muslims do not
believe in liberty, free will and choice. In fact there is not a
single instance that Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) did treat apostasy as a
prescribed offence under hudud (capital punishment) only for leaving
Islam. The Prophet (pbuh) never put anyone to death for apostasy
alone rather he let such person go unharmed. No one was sentenced to
death solely for renunciation of faith unless accompanied by
hostility and treason or was linked to an act of political betrayal
of the community. As a matter of fact the Quran is completely silent
on the question of death as a punishment for apostasy. Apostasy does
not qualify for temporal punishment. In fact the Supreme Court of
Malaysia ruled that conversion to Christianity by a Muslim is not a
Hashim Kamali put
forwarded verse 137 of Chapter 4 (Surat An Nisa) as conclusive proof
of argument against the death penalty for apostasy:: “Those who
believe, then disbelieve, then believe again, then disbelieve and
then increase in their disbelief – God will never forgive them nor
guide them to the path”. Commenting on the verse Mohammad Hashim
Kamali pointed out: “The implication is unmistakable. The text
would hardly entertain the prospect of repeated belief and disbelief
if death were to be the prescribed punishment for the initial act.
It is also interesting to note that the initial reference to
disbelief is followed by further confirmation of disbelief and then
‘increase in disbelief’. One might be inclined to think that if
the first instance of apostasy did not qualify for capital
punishment, the repeated apostasy might have provoked it – had
such a punishment ever been intended in the Quran”[emphasis added]2.
Hashim Kamali pointed out to the hadith, the Saying of the Prophet
(saws) which “makes it clear that the apostate must also boycott
the community (muifariq lil-jamaah) and challenge its legitimate
leadership, in order to be subjected to death penalty”3:
“The blood of a Muslim who professes
that there is no god but Allah and that I am His Messenger,
is sacrosanct except in three cases: a married adulterer; a person
who has killed another human being; and a person who has abandoned
his religion, while splitting himself off from the community
Ibn Taymiyyah explaining the aforementioned hadith of the Prophet
(pbuh) inferred that “the crime referred to in the hadith under
discussion is that of high treason (hirabah) and not apostasy
(riddah) as such”5.
A. Rahman, former Chief Justice of Pakistan while discussing in his
monograph ‘The Punishment of Apostasy in Islam’ looked “into
the evidence in the Quran and the Sunnah in detail, and draws
attention to the fact that the Quran is silent on the question of
death as the punishment for apostasy, despite this subject occurring
no less then twenty times in the Holy Book” [ibid p 93].
Judge Rahman examined the hadith “kill whoever changes his
religion” (man baddala dinahu faqtuluhu) and found “some
weakness in the transmission (isnad)”6.
Judge S. A. Rahman’s conclusion is also supported by other
evidence, such as the fact that neither Prophet (pbuh) himself, nor
any of his Companions ever compelled anyone to embrace Islam, nor
did they sentence anyone to death solely for renunciation of faith7.
Judge Rahman’s view is supported by such eminent earlier scholars
as Ibrahim al Nakhai and Sufyan al Thawri (both held the view that
“apostate should be re-invited to Islam but should never be
condemned to death”), the renowned Hanafi jurist Shams al Din al
Sarakhsi (“apostasy does not qualify for temporal punishment”),
Malaki jurist al Baji (“apostasy is a sin which carries no
prescribed penalty, hadd”) and modern scholars as Abd al Hakim al
Ili and Ismail al Badawi (apostasy to be punishable by death has to
be “political in
character and aimed at the inveterate enemies of Islam”), Mahmud
Shaltut (“apostasy carries no temporal penalty”), Mahmassani
(“death penalty was meant to apply, not to simple act of apostasy
from Islam, but when apostasy was linked to an act of political
betrayal of the community”). Selim el Awa raised a very rational
argument that if the hadith “whoever renounces his religion shall
be killed” is literally applied it would be applicable also “to
Christians, who convert to Judaism and vice versa” which
“manifestly fall outside the intention” of the hadith8.
great Iranian scholar Ayatollah Mutahhari highlighted the
incompatibility of the coercion with the sprit of Islam, and the
basic redundancy of punitive measures in the propagation of its
message. He wrote that it is impossible to force anyone to acquire
the kind of faith that is required by Islam, just as “it is not
possible to spank a child into solving an arithmetical problem. His
mind and thought must be left free in order that he may solve it.
The Islamic faith is something of this kind”9.
Hassan Turabi, the ideologue of the Sudanese Islamic movement,
raised a very pertinent rational argument on the validity of the
opinion of those scholars who hold the view that apostasy in Islam
is punishable by death. He pointed out:
can it be imagined by a rational person that Allah, Who has
compelled none to believe, allows us the right to compel others and
force them to believe?... If Almighty Allah has granted us the merit
of freedom, he who wants to believe is allowed that right and so too
the one who wants to disbelieve. If He has chosen to distinguish us
from other creatures through His gift of freedom, instead of
creating us believers by necessity like stones, mountains, and the
earth, which all fear the responsibility of freedom shouldered by
Man, the ignorant, the unjust; if that is so, then the exercise of
that freedom will become a matter of course – a self-evident truth
confirmed by the Quran as in, ‘No one is to be compelled to
believe’… At the time of the Prophet Mohammad, peace be upon
him, the Quran tells us of those who believed and then disbelieved
again and so forth. The opinion of the people of those days changed
so easily and freely – between belief and disbelief – that it
appeared to swing like a pendulum… The Prophet’s saying about
apostasy is a short statement pronounced within the context of war
conditions. Muslims were greatly affected to see one of their
companions desert his faith and join the ranks of disbelievers. They
were not sure if they should kill him or spare his life because he
was a Muslim once. The Prophet, peace be upon him, explained that
one who abandons his religion and deserts his fellows should be
killed. Regrettably, people of the subsequent generations have taken
the Prophet’s saying out of its historical context and generalized
it. In so doing they deny one of the basic truths of Islam: the
freedom of faith…The saying is related to the case of the Muslim
who deserts his fellows and joins the enemies of Islam. Such a
person will either be killed or kill someone else”
is therefore clear that the Prophet’s saying about the apostate is
restricted to times of war, when a Muslim deserter joins the ranks
of the enemies to wage war against Islam, rather than seeing this
hadith as a measure for controlling the faith of those who do not
Mohammad Hashim Kamali.
‘Freedom of Expression in Islam’. Ilmiah Publishers: Kuala
Lumpur. 1998, pp 87-107.
Ibid., pp 97-98.
Muslim. Mukhtasar Sahih
Muslim, p., 271.Hadith
No. 1023. Quoted in ‘Freedom of Expression in Islam’ p 96.
Ibn Taymiyyah. Al Sarim
Al Maslul. p 52. Quoted in ‘Freedom of Expression in Islam’, p
Ibid p 93.
Judge S. A. Rahman, “The
Punishment of Apostasy in Islam”. pp 63-64. Quoted in ‘Freedom
of Expression in Islam’, p 93.
Ibid., pp. 93-95.
‘Islam and the Freedom of Thought and Belief’’. Al Tawhid. p
154. Quoted in Freedom of Expression in Islam. p. 95.
Al Mustakillah. Issue
No. 96. 11 March 1996. English translation by The Diplomat, UK.